Free Speech and Academic Freedom at the University of Nottingham

Freedom of speech and the free exchange of ideas are central to the University of Nottingham’s mission of advancing truth, knowledge, and understanding. Pursuit of these aims requires free and open enquiry within the law, including the airing of ideas or perspectives which may be unpopular or cause offence. This is especially important given that many ideas which were previously regarded as deeply controversial or offensive are now widely accepted. Thus, a commitment to freedom of speech must apply to challenging or unpopular ideas as well as ideas about which there is broad consensus.

The University commits to protecting and promoting free speech and academic freedom so that students and staff can become acquainted with new information and ideas and with diverse viewpoints. The University provides an inclusive and supportive environment that encourages civil and peaceful debate, one in which students and staff can challenge their own and others’ beliefs and opinions and scrutinise these on their merits. This commitment reflects the University’s core values of inclusivity, ambition, openness, fairness, and respect, and it is consistent with its legal responsibility to protect and promote free speech and academic freedom as detailed in the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act 2023.


Promoting free speech and supporting people

We will support students to develop the skills to engage critically with new ideas, seeking to prepare them for the challenges they will face during their studies and after they have graduated.

At the same time, we will continue to engage with, and provide an environment and infrastructure to support, both speakers and those who may object to a speaker or are for whatever reason concerned or offended by them.

Freedom of expression applies to all who wish to seek, receive, or impart information and ideas of all kinds, and includes the right to protest peacefully; protest is itself a legitimate expression of freedom of speech.

In seeking to protect the freedom of speech of its staff and students, the University will take appropriate measures, in accordance with the terms of this statement, to assist staff and students whose freedom of speech is threatened. We prioritise the wellbeing of our staff and students and provide a range of services designed to support them whilst working and studying at the University.

Academic freedom

The University is also committed to protecting and promoting academic freedom, as detailed in the University Statutes. Statute 9 specifically states that academic staff at Nottingham have freedom within the law to question and test received wisdom and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions, without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or privileges.

A commitment to academic freedom does not mean that every claim or viewpoint is equally worthwhile; some views will not stand up to academic scrutiny. Whenever possible, all ideas should be open to questioning and open to being challenged by rational argument, supported by relevant evidence.

Views expressed by staff and students that are contrary to the values of the University, but nonetheless lawful, must never be presented as if they were endorsed by the University.

The university is not a public square

The University is a staunch defender and promoter of free speech, but it is not a public square, and it is not obliged to provide speaking opportunities to anyone or to everyone that desires one. As a scholarly institution, the University confers authority and legitimacy on the views which are attached to it and provides an audience for the speakers it hosts.

Staff and students making decisions about inviting speakers to the University should always carefully assess whether the interests of the University community would be better served by inviting other speakers to join the debate for the purposes of providing challenge.

Civil debate within the law

It must equally be recognised that a commitment to promote freedom of speech and academic freedom does not require tolerance of abuse, threats, incitement to violence, hatred, discrimination, or other unlawful acts. The Equality Act 2010 protects people from direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation on the basis of protected characteristics.

In exercising freedom of speech and academic freedom, we must each be mindful of the potential to cause harm and of our own accountability.

The University’s policies are designed to ensure that debates, whether about controversial ideas or otherwise, are inclusive, peaceful and civil. Participants in these debates should not be intimidated or censored, nor should they intimidate or censor others.

These commitments inform all of the University of Nottingham’s specific policies that have implications for the freedom of speech and academic freedom. Whilst it is recognised that it can be difficult in practice to balance competing rights and obligations, this statement provides a framework for any decision-making on behalf of the University that may have implications for the freedom of speech, which should always take into account relevant domestic and international standards.

The University is committed to keeping these policies and other parts of the regulatory framework under constant review, in particular as to how they are being applied in practice. The University will also revise and develop these policies transparently and in consultation with the wider University community.

Version 1.2

Revised following consultation during May 2021

Approved by Senate 8 June 2021

Edited to correct a grammatical error 30 June 2021

Updated January 2023 following the passing of the Higher Education (Freedom Of Speech) Act 2023

Reviewed and updated in March 2024

Additional Information

University policies and other reference points

The University Strategy including the statement on University values can be found here.

Academic Freedom is addressed in the Statutes of the University, which are, after the Royal Charter, the highest level of University regulations. The statement on academic freedom, enshrined in Statute 9, was approved by Privy Council in 2010. (See below.)

Meetings on University Premises: Procedures are in place relating to Arrangements for meetings or other activities on University premises. The Code of Practice for Meetings or other Activities on University Premises was prepared in relation to the duties of the University in respect of freedom of speech as laid down in Section 43 of the Education (No.2) Act 1986. The Code seeks to take steps which are reasonably practicable to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured for members, students and employees of the University and for visiting speakers. The Code of Practice was updated in March 2016 to reflect the statutory requirements of the Prevent Duty and has been approved by the University's Council which has appointed the Registrar to act on its behalf to ensure as far as is reasonably practicable that all members, students and employees of the University, and visiting speakers, comply with the provisions of this Code.

The Prevent Duty, which came into force for universities in September 2015 as part of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, places legal requirements on the University to minimise the risk of individuals being drawn into terrorism and to ensure vulnerable individuals receive timely and appropriate support. The University has processes and policies in place to comply with the duty, including the provision of training and arrangements for events / visiting speakers as detailed above.

The University’s Equality Diversity and Inclusion policy can be found here along with additional information intended to ensure all staff, students and University representatives feel safe, included, and supported to be their very best in all that they do.

The University’s Social Media Policy for staff can be found here.

The University’s approach to dignity, harassment and bullying can be found in the Dignity at Nottingham page. Additionally there is information available to students on expected standards of behaviour, including in relation to social media use, here.

Staff disciplinary procedures are set out in the Human Resources web pages.

The Code of Discipline for Students is in place to ensure that good standards of communal life are maintained at the University of Nottingham. It stipulates that students are required to show respect for all members and property of the University and wider community and to behave in a manner that does not interfere with the proper functioning and activities of the University.

A selection of relevant external references


Full details of the Human Rights Act 1998 can be found here.

The Education Act 1994 - Although Students’ Unions are generally independent, section 22 of the Education Act 1994 explicitly makes universities responsible for taking reasonably practicable steps to secure that their SU operates in a fair and democratic manner. Section 22 also specifically requires the governing body to bring to the attention of all students, at least annually, the provisions of section 43 and our code of practice.

The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill 2023 makes provision in relation to freedom of speech and academic freedom in higher education institutions and in students’ unions.

The Equality Act 2010 & the Public Sector Duty provide a legislative framework to protect against disadvantage and discrimination of particular groups of people, with the public sector duty requiring public bodies to consider all individuals when carrying out their work, in shaping policy and delivering services.

The Online Safety Bill 2021
The OfS is able to use its powers under the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 (HERA) to take action where a university has breached, or there is a risk that they might breach, one of the registration conditions related to free speech. All registered universities are required to comply with the ongoing conditions of registration set by the OfS in its Regulatory Framework that are applicable to them, with Conditions E1 and E2 applying to free speech and academic freedom. Condition E1 refers to the public interest governance principles which are applicable to all registered providers. These principles explicitly reference freedom of speech and academic freedom. Condition E2 makes reference to statutory duty on freedom of speech in section 43 of the Education (No.2) Act 1986.

The Defamation Act 2013 is available here.

The ‘Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression’ at Chicago University has been widely referenced in the current discussions.

The Russell Group has also published a statement which is intended to underline the determination of the UK's leading research-intensive universities to protect freedom of expression and academic freedom. 

Universities UK published a statement on how Universities can prepare for the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act 2023 and some case studies.

The University is regulated by the Office for Students through its Conditions of Registration which the University is required to adhere to. Freedom of Speech is currently regulated under the E conditions (Management and Governance) and the relevant public interest governance principles that underpin those conditions. The OfS take a risk-based approach to monitoring University performance and if the OfS identify the University is at risk of or is not complying with the conditions of registration its powers provide the facilities for it to investigate the activities of the University and potentially impose sanctions.


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